Tag Archives: plastic

What’s in Your Sushi?

by  Patricia Plackett

A summary of a Suzuki Elder Salon held on 26 October 2017, Vancouver, B.C.

The salon was organized by:

Mel Bilko, David Clayton, Erzsi Institorisz, Yiman Jiang, Maria Kim, David Plackett, Patricia Plackett and Erlene Woollard.

Estimates suggest that between 5 and 13 million tonnes of plastic end up in oceans every year.  By 2050 it is projected that there could be more plastic by weight in the oceans than fish; understandably, concerns about potential implications for all consumers of marine products are rapidly escalating.

This salon had two related goals – to give participants a deeper understanding of key issues associated with the growing amount of plastic in oceans and to provide them with a chance to discuss what they might do in their daily lives to contribute to solutions.

Four questions were addressed:

Question 1 – How big is the plastic in oceans problem?

Plastic is being used more and more widely because of its durability and other properties, often in rather surprising applications such as fleece jackets, shampoos and teabags. Currently, 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced globally each year and plastic debris has been documented in all marine environments – coastlines, open ocean, sea surface and sea floor as well as deep-sea sediments and Arctic sea ice.

How does plastic end up in the ocean?  —> https://youtu.be/GkV76AqUor4

Question 2 – How serious is the plastic in oceans problem?

Oceanic winds and currents create huge circular whirlpools of plastic – the so-called garbage patches or gyres – that adversely affect marine life. Analyses of marine bird and animal stomach contents reveal an assortment of plastic bottle caps, lighters and pieces of plastic as well as plastic bags. The increasingly small fragments into which oceanic plastic breaks – microplastics – can be mistaken for marine food and the much smaller nanoplastic particles may even cross into the cells of marine organisms and into the human food chain.

David Attenborough in Plastic Oceans film —> https://youtu.be/cX1T79ZKJqM

Question 3 – How much plastic is in seafood?

The marine food chain starts with phytoplankton and progresses up to large marine mammals such as orca whales. Although researchers have found plastic in the phytoplankton consumed by many sea creatures and also in fish and shellfish, they are still working to determine precisely how significantly plastic affects food safety and food security for human beings.

Microplastics entering the food chain —> https://youtu.be/Yu5Dw6rwZvE

Question 4 – Doesn’t recycling help solve the plastic in oceans problem?

Although recycling is becoming more widespread and effective, it is estimated that less than 5% of plastic produced is recycled. It is said that every piece of plastic ever made, regardless of its composition, will be with us forever in one form or another. A recycling plant tour suggests that rather large amounts of plastic intended to be recycled may end up in trash under current recycling practices.

The Zero Waste Lifestyle—> https://vimeo.com/127441759

What about solutions?

It has been argued that we rely far too heavily on plastic for a very wide range of applications and yet we value it so little that much of it ends up as trash, often after a single use. Consequently, the real focus in rethinking plastics should be on placing a much higher value on it, regarding it as treasure and not as trash.

Strategies could involve eliminating applications for which other suitable options exist and also making waste plastic more recyclable into new products as well as adopting Zero Waste Lifestyles that reduce consumer needs for plastic packaging and plastic products.

Inspirational examples demonstrate some progress in finding solutions. Vancouver’s Nada, a zero-waste grocery store, and The Soap Dispensary, the city’s first dedicated refill shop, eliminate the need for plastic packaging. Some local communities have engaged in plastic waste reduction as in the case of Tofino where an exceptionally successful campaign focused on ridding local businesses of plastic straws and providing paper ones only upon request. Globally, there are various examples of products in which plastic has been replaced by other materials such as bagasse in tableware and seaweed in edible sachets and wrappers.

The solutions discussed in each of the salon discussion groups and those proposed at the end of the salon will be presented in subsequent posts on the ReThinking Plastic series on this website. Challenges will also be posted for those wishing to continue learning about the complex problem of plastic in oceans.

As we think about solutions that will reduce the amount of plastic in our oceans, let us remember the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead: “We are continually faced with great opportunities brilliantly disguised as unsolvable problems.

We welcome your views. Please share your thoughts under the Leave a comment heading (at the bottom of this post). Watch for related posts on this theme in the coming weeks and months.

 

 

PLASTIC HERE TO STAY: THERE IS NO AWAY!

by Erlene Woollard

Have you noticed lately what is happening in the world’s oceans? If not, please take the time to do so. A good place to start would be the website of the Plastic Oceans Foundation, a global network of independent not-for-profits and charitable organizations, united in their aims to change the world’s attitude towards plastic within a generation. There are currently four Plastic Oceans Foundation entities: United States, Hong Kong, United Kingdom and Canada (in Vancouver), serving both the ocean and the public.

I went to the Canadian Premiere of their film of “A Plastic Ocean” and found it very disturbing and hard to watch but also enlightening. I was encouraged to see so many concerned and qualified people working on the issues of educating us all and trying to protect the world’s sea life from society’s careless use of single-use plastic.

The suffering this plastic is causing is heart wrenching and so unnecessary. If only we, as part of a caring society, would be more thoughtful and even vigilant in our use and disposal of the plastic that surrounds us in our daily lives. In other words, we urgently need to RETHINK our use of the stuff. The hope is that once people know the consequences of our disposable lifestyles as well as understand the importance of the oceans and their bounty in our lives then we will start to care. From caring comes positive change.

Here are some pertinent facts from the Plastic Ocean’s website.

  • Plastic, once made, is always with us in some form. When it is thrown away in one place, it shows up in another, always.
  • More than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in our oceans every year.
  • We have developed a “disposable” lifestyle; estimates are that around 50% of plastic is used just once and thrown away.
  • Plastic is a valuable resource and plastic pollution is an unnecessary and unsustainable waste of that resource.
  • Packaging is the largest end use market segment, accounting for just over 40% of total plastic usage.
  • Approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used annually worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute.
  • A plastic bag has an average “working life” of just 15 minutes.
  • Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.

Often, when we look at making changes in our lives, the changes seem daunting, unrealistic and very time consuming. Below are some things that can be done almost without thinking. These are things that help make each of us feel like we are part of a positive solution.

RETHINKING PACKAGING:

  • Bananas have their own natural packaging so do you really need to put them into a plastic bag in the store to take home?
  • When going shopping, take your own plastic bags from your collection under the sink!! I know this is easy to forget, but you don’t forget your purse or your jacket or your shoes, so……??!
  • Shop in stores that have bulk food. Do not just automatically buy things like cucumbers/apples that the store puts into plastic bags (you will find the others are usually fresher anyway).

 BECOME A BETTER CONSUMER:

  • Refuse to buy things that have excess packaging, and when you can’t avoid doing so then leave the packing behind for the store to deal with (and you can even write letters about this).
  • Use up things. Don’t squander resources on items that are hardly used or which you don’t need and then carelessly send to landfills.
  • Be willing to buy less and to pay fair prices for the things you do buy.
  • Take an extra few minutes to have that coffee in the café to avoid taking it out.
  • Take containers to restaurants in case you have any leftovers to take home.
  • Try to start remembering to ask for a drink without a straw in a restaurant. They even have stainless steel ones now.

BE BOTHERED AT HOME:

  • Hide the ziplock bags and Seran Wrap from yourself as well as other family members and train yourselves to use other methods to store that small bit of leftover onion which will probably end up in the compost anyway.
  • Wash those ziplock bags when you do use them and put them out to dry.
  • Recycle everything and into the right places.
  • Ask yourself “Do I need to use this?
  • When you do use plastic and are tempted to throw out, remind yourself about all the resources that went into making this amazing product and also about the fact that any plastic ever made is still in the world in some form.
  • Use your imagination to use things in new ways.
  • Make a habit of educating yourself about the needs and also about some of the wonderful innovative inventions happening all over the world to remedy this situation and support these as much as possible.

In order to help consumers become plastic literate and also so that we can make informed decisions about how and when to accept plastic, our intergenerational team in the Suzuki Elders would like to arrange a showing of A Plastic Ocean sometime this coming fall. If this is of interest to you please let us know.

There are many other things we can do and this is only to start you thinking about ways to change your mindset, your habits and home environment and to even begin to change the systems we live in.

One interesting idea is to teach ourselves to let the oceans speak for themselves. Listen to the stories of the sea creatures and the ways they have been made to suffer. Be an open space for learning from them and changing our own stories to save these beautiful creatures and their environment so that our own species can survive.

We need our oceans and the food they produce for so many reasons.

 

Elders, youth and the environment– we are in this together

by Diana Ellis

The Suzuki Elders are a voluntary group of self-identified elders working with, and through, the David Suzuki Foundation. At the core of the Suzuki Elders purpose statement is this: “We mentor, encourage and support other elders and the younger generations in dialogue and action on the environment.” For the past three years we’ve put considerable energy into making specific links with youth.

We’ve learned a few things along the way – about working with youth, and about our role as Suzuki Elders in engaging with them.

Our Elder experience in the HOW of working WITH youth

With” is the key word here.

First – we go to where youth are – Facebook, social media, their marches, conferences, workshops. We show up. That’s where we start to make the connections and linkages. And we follow up – be a friend on Facebook, read what they are doing and reporting, keep in touch. We look for one or two youth who really want to work with us and connect firmly with them. They always know others, and that’s how the team grows.

Youth tell us that, for many, the reason for getting involved in environmental and other social justice issues is first about getting connected with others, being in community with friends, being social. So we make sure our time together offers those opportunities.

We know that, developmentally, age 16 (Grade 10 in Canada) is typically the time when many young people start thinking more about the outside world, about social justice, about personal action. We connect with that age group and stay linked with them as they move through Grades 11 and 12, while consistently cultivating new contacts at the Grade 10 level.

When setting up discussion groups with youth and elders, we find small groups work best, i.e. small groups of 3-5. As nervy and brave as some youth are, there are many others still working to find their own voice and that is usually best found in a small group setting. We elders remember how powerful those moments of personal voice-finding are, so we build small group opportunities into workshops, conference and seminars.

We remember that younger people have different learning preferences and take that into account in our planning.

“I don’t want to go to workshops where someone stands up and talks for an hour, and then I have to go home and remember what was said. I want to talk, to interact, to have some hands on experience – to be able to go home with some tangible learning” (Youth workshop attendee).

More specifics

Timing is important. Youth are in school during the day and many of them work on the weekends. What works best for elder/youth meetings are those scheduled for late afternoon/after school or early evening meetings, or Sundays. We’ve done it all.

Food works! Snacks disappear! Share a light dinner for an after-school or early evening meeting. Plan a Saturday morning brainstorming session with juice, fruit, cheese.

Respect works! Youth emphatically ask us not to put down or make light of their use of social media. Social media is their way, they are very comfortable in that realm and it works. Further to that, Suzuki Elders ask for and accept youth’s help with social media, technology, websites etc. They know so much more than we do.

Support works! We support the environmental action that youth are already taking on. We tell them “we have your backs.” We elders do not, ever, wag our fingers and say youth should do their environmental activities differently, that what they are thinking is wrong-headed or not enough.

I think that environmentalism needs to be seen as necessary and enriching, not just a duty. Unless we think of it that way there’ll be just a small group of people working on it” (Youth retreat participant).

“I think there’s a stigma around the term environmentalism – I prefer the term sustainability” (Youth retreat participant).

Listening works! We’ve learned to listen first, listen second, listen third. Probe with care. Listen again.

What we’ve learned about our own role as elders working with youth

Suzuki Elders ask ourselves: “What is our reason for working with youth on any given project or initiative?” Does it fit with our purpose to motivate, encourage and support?

When working with youth we quell our own personal desires to be heard out there in the public world because in this case we aren’t looking for the podium for ourselves, we are reaching out to bridge the generational divide. If we are audacious enough to think we should speak on behalf of children and youth, we question what our motivation is in doing so. Is it because we can sometimes reach an audience they cannot? Is this useful? And does what we say reflect how youth feel?

We’ve learned that our work with youth is not about us, it is about them. What elders bring to the table is our story, and our ability to reflect on and describe what we call “the long view.”

We’ve learned that youth do want to hear our stories – about our lives and what we’ve done – and those “long view” reflections. We’ve learned that these stories are best shared in some activity and context. For example, when organizing a workshop together, we don’t say how something should be done, instead, we might tell an “I remember when…” story. Teachable moments are not always obvious, in fact, perhaps the best teachable moments are the ones we never realized were teachable. However, we’ve also learned our longer experience in planning and evaluation can be brought forward in the detail work…the “don’t forget about” list. We usually offer some assistance in making that list!

Importantly, as elders, we remember to be patient. Youth are busy and often preoccupied with other interests, not the least of which is their own schooling. They may not respond to our e-mails as quickly as needed. Sometimes consistent patient elder prompting is required.

Our Suzuki Elder work with youth is to mentor, support and encourage. We remind ourselves that as elders we are not their (school) teachers, we are not their parents, in most cases, we are not even their grandparents. We don’t teach, we don’t direct, we don’t chastise, we don’t even hold out expectations.

“I want a way to think about things, rather than what to think…” (Youth planning session participant).

We remind ourselves of the truism that no one can empower anyone else. People can only empower themselves. What we can do as elders is help create opportunities for youth to empower themselves.

What we’ve learned about youth from working with them

Youth are fearless in the way we were fearless when we were younger. It is powerful stuff.

“In terms of doing something (about the environment) I thought, “If not me, who else will do it?” (Youth roundtable discussant)

“By Grade 10 I was going to rallies, doing flash mobs. Then I began to realize how important politics is to change. I got involved in a youth action group and made a film on climate action.” (Youth retreat participant).

The youth we work with on environment and sustainability matters are bright and quick. They know a lot about this topic, and from angles that often differ from ours. Outside the box thinking! It is exciting to go there with them.

“I have always found the root of the problems of the world as the environment – I want people to see the inter-relationship of social justice and the environment” (Youth retreat participant.)

And, we are mindful of our different realities because of age.

“The future is mine … not yours…” (Youth retreat participant).

Dealing with hope, fear and despair

The youth we engage with on environment and sustainability always want to talk about hope – usually first. We find that closing any discussions, conferences, workshops and talks on a theme of practical hopefulness is more likely to lead to action, to personal commitment, as well as to gaining a sense of comfort and inclusion.PlayWithoutPlastic copy

Fears emerge further on, sometimes with gentle prompting. The times when youth confide their fears about the future to us are important – and moving – moments of discussion.

“I feel hopeful when I see lots of people marching in the street – makes me know there are others working on this and makes me feel less alone.” (Youth in small group discussion).

“I am actually scared about the future – scared we won’t have enough time to fix this…but when I attend events like this I get hopeful.” (Youth conference attendee)

“My fears are that the issues will disempower us” (Youth discussion group participant).

“I feel like we, the youth of today, have lots of worries already. Adding one other worry regarding the environment is an EXTRA – and youth don’t have the (personal) resources to deal with that extra worry” (Youth retreat participant).

Indeed, just like adults, some youth do not have the resources to deal with extra worries, or their resources are fragile. We know of young people depressed about the future – some even in despair. This concerns us deeply, and makes us review the way we, as Suzuki Elders, talk with youth about the environment, sustainability, the way ahead and adaptation.

We know reality must be acknowledged, that we cannot easily paint a rosy picture of the future. While we believe it is an elder’s responsibility to speak truth, we frame these discussions in a way that does not leave people, especially the young, without hope. One of our Suzuki Elders said recently, “It is not so much about what we say, but how well we listen (to youth).” Another noted that “by our own example, we show there is hopefulness in action.”

We elders know from our life experience in other movements – peace, anti-poverty, civil rights, women’s, anti-nuclear – that every effort counts, be it small or large, individual or collective. What we say to youth, and all, is simply this – that every day, we can each do everything we can, to move the environmental and sustainability agenda forward.

What youth and elders get from intergenerational environmental work together

For Youth: because Suzuki Elders ask youth for their perspective, working with us has provided them with an opportunity to practice, to test themselves, to show leadership, to get on the podium, to shine. Because we have worked with them, we are able, when asked, to provide letters of reference. Perhaps most importantly, youth know that we will listen and hear them….and that we have their backs.Picture 2

For Suzuki Elders: we are reminded of the richness and privilege of working with the younger generation. Our knowledge and skills are valued by them and this valuation is as important for we elders as it is for youth. The technical support youth share with us is needed and useful. Finally, and this is no small thing – from the commitment and curiousity of youth we elders receive infusions of hope and inspiration.

 

 

Vancouver MURBs move ahead with recycling

A Vancouver West-End high rise shows how it’s done.

by Jill Schroder

tall-buildings-1013tm-pic-1303Vancouver, Canada, the greenest city in the world? Many city residents would find that a completely realistic target as the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan moves into its 2nd year of implementation.

Zero waste is a prominent and ambitious feature of the Action Plan, which seeks to reduce solid waste going to the landfill or incinerator by 50% from 2008 levels. To achieve this goal the City has committed to several targets, amongst them:

– the expansion of existing citywide programmes to allow the collection of all household food waste, and

– the development of education and enforcement programs to keep recyclables out of the waste stream.

Multi Unit Residential Buildings (MURBs) now comprise 60% of the total residential sector within Vancouver, and were initially slow to come on board with recycling programs. Our west end high rise – Panorama Place – was an early pioneer in this area.

Our experience shows that there is no cookie-cutter solution to all recycling programmes in a MURB. Each building is unique and one has to experiment and find what works for the specific situation. Our experience suggests that groups must take the recycling bull by the horns, get a team together and appoint a leader who takes notes, has to-do lists, sets time frames and moves things forward. There also has to be support from the management, strata or board or the programme won’t fly. We have educated people as we went along, and have celebrated and engaged the community along the way. We received funding for our recycling programme (in part) from the Greenest City Small Grants Program through our local Gordon Neighbourhood House.RecycleBin

Our small but dedicated Green Team now collects significant amounts of material, none of which is currently acceptable in the City’s Blue Bins, and that would otherwise be destined for the landfills. Since we started our programme several years ago, we’ve saved tonnes of material from the landfill and reduced our garbage output by the equivalent of one dumpster pick-up per week (besides saving money).

We currently recycle (in the order in which we started collecting them) batteries, all light bulbs, hard and soft plastics, styrofoam, appliances and electronics. Some residents have large items, TVs or microwaves – and we take those too!  Our recycling area is under cover, but unlocked, so binners sometimes come and take things, which is fine by us. All of the material is transported by Green Team members to Pacific Recycling (formerly known as Encorp).

We have a box for collecting travel sized toiletries and partially used beauty products, which goes to a homeless shelter in the downtown east side. This was a resident initiative, not part of the Green Team recycling, but we supported it. We purchased a laundry room bulletin board and a bookshelf where we have a lending library of books, magazines, CDs. When this space overflows, we take the material to the Denman Mall to the Thrift Shop or Kay’s Place, where they can use or resell it. We have a supply of Dryer Balls for common use, to avoid the chemicals and waste of products such as Bounce.

In November 2013 we became part of the Pilot Program for Food Scraps Recycling, which further expanded the recycling plan for our community, and now includes all residents. Food waste is hauled to Harvest Power in Richmond, B.C., an amazing facility!

So far we have found that programme compliance by tenants is high and contamination from waste low. Overall, the Green Team and our various recycling initiatives have done great things for the environment, in raising awareness, and in building a sense of community in our MURB.

Certainly there have been a few obstacles along the way, mainly in the form of nay-sayers and a lack of mobility on the part of some tenants. We have countered that by providing information and seeking testimonials from people who were reluctant at first but then saw that it works, saves money and is the right thing to do.

If any readers are interested in further information or starting a program where they live, feel free to get in touch!